Heart Disease in Animals

Dogs and cats can have a number of different diseases or conditions of the heart that differ from humans in a number of ways. Heart attacks and strokes that are common in people are rare in dogs and cats. Blood pressure elevation can and does occur, but it is rare in animals. Certain breeds of dogs that are very prone to heart disease include: Cavalier King Charles spaniels, miniature poodles, cocker spaniels, miniature schnauzers and dachshunds. One of the early signs of heart disease is a cough, especially at night when the dog or cat is resting. In addition to a cough, other signs of heart disease may include exercise intolerance, panting while resting and labored breathing. More advanced signs may include: distended abdomen, weakness, fainting, restlessness and lack of appetite. A proper examination includes the use of the stethoscope to determine if any murmurs are present as 75% of heart problems that we diagnose are valve related. The stethoscope also picks up irregular heart beats known as arrhythmias, as this can also develop into heart disease. Murmurs in puppies, however can disappear, but not always. Dental disease is a contributing factor in animal heart disease. Bacteria in the mouth can spread by the bloodstream and affect the valves in the heart. The proper diagnosis of heart disease not only includes the stethoscope, but the use of radiographs, EKG, and often an Ultrasound. The medications that we have available today include some older drugs such as Lasix and Enalapril, and a new one known as Vetmedin. Not only do these drugs eliminate the symptoms but they also extend the life and quality of life of those patients with diagnosed heart disease. Weight loss, moderate exercise and of course the proper diet are also very important.There are many special prescription diets on the market formulated specifically for heart disease.